Officials with the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal’s Office say the investigation into the Chickasha Manufacturing plant fire is ongoing.
Authorities say they know human activity played a role in the fire, but they have not been able to determine if the fire was set intentionally.
CHICKASHA, Okla. (KFOR) – An Emergency Order, from the Department of Environmental Quality, to a company accused of storing hand sanitizer illegally, shows the DEQ began investigating Bordwine Development Inc. long before the first flames ignited.
“The reason that you have these regulations is because you can have an incident like this,” said Erin Hatfield, the Director of Communications for the DEQ. “Those regulations are there for a reason.”
Documents from the DEQ show complaints against Bordwine Development Inc. started in late July.
Derrek Stumpf, who lives near the Chickasha Manufacturing Company, said he called the DEQ because he was concerned about the hand sanitizer inside.
“Tons of trucks coming in and out with boxes and boxes of it,” said Stumpf. “There had heard that they might be dumping it and there was evidence towards it. I just wanted someone to investigate.”
There are three sites involved in the emergency order. They are all located near each other in the Chickasha area.
At one site, investigators said they saw “pallets of bottled hand sanitizer stacked outside a warehouse at the Quail Ln. property, with additional pallets stacked inside the warehouse two and three pallets high.” Investigators said they also saw “an area near the road where a pit had been dug and liquid was standing in the pit.”
The emergency order said the company said “the pit had been dug to expand the drive area into the property to make it easier to accommodate the semi-trucks but that they had encountered groundwater and had decided not to expand the drive area.”
“We’ve certainly taken a lot of samples of water and soil and those are in the analysis phase right now,” said Hatfield.
“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” said Stumpf.
On August 7th, the DEQ was alerted that the Chickasha Manufacturing Center went up in flames. Fire crews said they had to let the fire burn itself out, over several days, because of the hand sanitizer inside.
The next day, DEQ Investigators said they found two “manholes to the City of Chickasha’s sanitary sewer main that were open.”
“Those manhole covers were blown off because of the fire. And there was presence of this hand sanitizer in that sewer line,” said Hatfield.
According to the documents, “DEW personnel investigated the drainage ditch and determined hand sanitizer had drained down the ditch approximately 725 feet.”
The DEQ said the company has a history of “previous environmental violations and non-compliance.” Investigators also said they have “continued to accept shipments of hand sanitizer and store the sanitizer at various locations in violation of State law and OAC regulations.”
However, Bordwine’s attorney told News 4 in part, “Recycling hand sanitizer, which is what Mr. Bordwine and his company were doing at each site, does not require hazardous waste permits and protocols for transportation, storage and recycling.”
The DEQ has told the company that they have to immediately cease receiving and transporting and improperly storing the hand sanitizer. They are also required to tell DEQ of any additional locations where they may be storing the material.
“We’re working with the EPA, the local fire department, several entities to ensure the safety of the public and to get this secured so it does not pose a threat to public health,” said Hatfield.
“If you see something, speak up,” said Stumpf. “I don’t want our town to be remembered for pollution.”
Bordwine’s attorney, Peter Scimeca, provided News 4 with the following statement:
“Mr. Bordwine and his company are addressing various concerns raised in the OKDEQ administrative Order and abiding by its orders. He continues, even after authorities executed a search warrant for over five hours at this business, to work with federal, state and local authorities to solve the problem of how to safely and lawfully dispose of the remaining hand sanitizer being stored in and around Chickasha. He plans to file an answer and request a hearing in the OKDEQ administrative proceeding modifying the terms of the Emergency Order that addresses a major oversite by all branches of Government involved. Recycling hand sanitizer, which is what Mr. Bordwine and his company were doing at each site, does not require hazardous waste permits and protocols for transportation, storage and recycling. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the attached EPA letter dated June 24, 2021 from Kim Kirkland, Chief, Waste Characterization Branch, that addresses permits and protocols needed for the recycling or disposal of hand sanitizer. The June 24, 2021 letter states ‘In summary, when recycled, hand sanitizer is exempt from hazardous waste regulations and does not have to ship on a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest’
The fire that burned in Chickasha on August 7, 2022 was a tragic accident for the town, Mr. Bordwine and his Company. Nobody lost more than he did in the fire. He is working day and night to solve problems. He asks for the Government agencies to come together and help his company move forward and solve this problem.”